China probes Jiangxi-reared pigs after Hong Kong steroid detection

By Frank Hersey

- Last updated on GMT

Observers do not expect the ban to significantly dampen pork prices in Hong Kong
Observers do not expect the ban to significantly dampen pork prices in Hong Kong

Related tags Hong kong Livestock Pork

Investigations into the health of pigs exported from Jiangxi are underway after Chinese authorities blocked trade following a warning from Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). 

Pigs from Jiangxi make up around 20% of hogs imported into the special administrative region from the Chinese mainland, which supplies the vast majority of pigs slaughtered in Hong Kong. According to China’s Pork Network information source, citing data for a typical day in Hong Kong, of the 3,984 live pigs to be slaughtered in Hong Kong, 3,768 came from across the border and just 216 were reared in Hong Kong.

Guan Guohua, of the Hong Kong Fresh Meat Alliance, revealed that the pigs came from six or seven farms in Jiangxi, totalling daily exports of 600 to 800 pigs per day to the territory.

The FEHD said residues of the beta-agonists clenbuterol and salbutamol were detected – these are drugs used for treating asthma, but also used by farmers to increase muscle-to-fat ratios, yielding leaner meat in their animals. These synthetic substances are banned for treating livestock for food sold in Hong Kong.

Four year lull

Such tainted meat and in particular offal, where the substances can become concentrated, can lead to rapid heart rates, dizziness, headaches, tremors and nervousness, according to the FEHD, which said the last time residues were detected in pig urine was 2012.

The samples came from a batch of 319 pigs that were being kept at Hong Kong’s Sheung Shui slaughterhouse, of which 40 had already been slaughtered and their meat distributed to 27 retailers in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. Three tonnes of meat had to be destroyed as a result.

No date has been given for an end to the ban. Mainland exports to Hong Kong were already dropping, although Hong Kong can increase its imports from other mainland provinces. Ricky Ng Kwok-ming, from the Hong Kong Fresh Meat Alliance, said the association had received reports that retailers involved had seen their sales drop by 40%.

Hui Wai-kin, chairman of the Pork Traders General Association of Hong Kong has been reported by Chinese language newspapers as saying that he does not expect the ban to significantly affect prices in Hong Kong, but that the real damage will be in consumer trust of mainland imports and that prices of Hong Kong-reared pigs are rising.

The latest US Department of Agriculture Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report on China from May shows that while China is a net importer of pork, it exported 231,000 tonnes and 1.5 million pigs in 2015, mainly to Hong Kong and Japan. Chinese customs data has revealed that pork exports in the first six months of 2016 were down 44.4% year-on-year because higher prices on the domestic market have eroded the benefit if paying extra transport costs for exporting.

Related topics Policy Food safety Meat China East Asia

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